Ireland voted No to the Treaty of Nice in 2001, and was made to vote again in 2002 – with clarifications guaranteeing Irish neutrality. So if you vote No, you extract concessions, and hence you can manage to get what you want. 2008 – repeat performance. Or that’s at least my interpretation of the results of a Eurobarometer survey of 2000 Irish voters conducted after the referendum – see all the details in French in this post from Jean Quatremer. While ignorance of the contents of the Treaty (sadly) figures high among the reasons for voting No, loss of an Irish member of the European Commission and tax harmonisation are concrete concerns cited. Grounds for accommodation of those Irish views?

But set this in the wider context. If the EU were to try to agree treaties again in the future and more countries held referendums, then the danger is surely that every country would want to get its concession, and many of those concessions would undoubtedly be contradictory. In some way the Irish electorate learnt from the 2001-2002 experience, and that’s hit the EU in 2008. So even if this time things can be resolved one way or another what’s the option for the future?

(and yes, you’re welcome to say in the comments that the solution is no institutional reforms, bla, bla, but – as before – I’ll approve those comments, take on board the sensible comments, but I’m still as committed as ever to the cause of democratising the EU in the future, and that the Treaty of Nice is inadequate)


  1. Waldo,

    sorry for the misnaming. I have a good friend called Wolfgang, and was thinking of him.

    I do not, as you claim, deny such a thing as ‘the general good’, I merely ask who is to decide what that is.

    “The Lisbon treaty handled two subjects: broadening democracy and improving efficiency, you tell me what’s wrong with that?”

    In principle or in practice? The two ideas are opposed. Efficiency in this context means the ability of the EU leadership to push through its agenda in double quick time. In this way, the Irish referendum is totally inefficient. Democracy itself is inefficient. Checks and balances are inefficient. Habeas Corpus is inefficient.

    As for democracy, it’s my turn to laugh. Understand this; the people of my country – England – and those of the UK in general, were promised a referendum. That promise has been broken. Under those circumstances, to suggest that the Lisbon treaty, which is being imposed in the most blatantly undemocratic way on my country, will bring more democracy is comical. I want democracy here and now, not in some imaginary future EU paradise.

    If you want the EU to be democratic, it must start now in the nation states. Imagine how much more powerful your beloved EU would be, if the people actually supported it! You may be a willing volunteer, I am a conscript, and as long as there is no referendum in my country, the Lisbon Treaty will be no more than a symbol of the political class’s contempt for the people.

    There are lots of other points to dispute here, but I don’t want to impose on Jon’s patience.

  2. Ralf,

    “We should not be waving goodbye to the concept of democracy, but greeting it at the EU level”

    You’ll be waiting for Godot, mate. Democracy barely exists at a national level. The government is bloated and interfering, filled with authoritarian tendencies. It breaks its promises and is widely derided and despised. And the opposition parties are just as bad.

    The problem lies here, and should be fixed here. It won’t be solved in Brussels.

  3. Trooper Thompson,

    We should not be waving goodbye to the concept of democracy, but greeting it at the EU level.

    If some political leaders are limited enough to stare at voting weights and other minor interests (‘Nice or die’), we citizens should open up larger vistas for them:

    Consent by the governed, representative democracy, parliamentary democracy, accountable government, in short, real democracy at the EU level has to be brought home to the heads of state or government as the only acceptable way forward for 21st century Europe.

  4. Wolfgang,

    “There has been a lot of talk on the democratic deficit and I am sick of it”

    Why is that? Do you not like being reminded of the undemocratic foundations of the EU, and the fact that almost without fail, whenever the people are allowed to vote, they vote against your EU.

    “I contest their no-vote for it is not in the interest of the general good”

    Ah, the general good. Now, who decides what that is, Wolfgang? You? A panel of experts? How about the people of Europe AKA democracy… oh sorry, I know you don’t like that word.

    “The Irish vote no because they perceive a no-vote to be able to force the EU to concessions (supported by the poll above). This clashes with the interests of other EU countries. I want to argue we can’t be friendly to that kind of behaviour”

    I suppose you prefer concessions to be forced at the treaty negotiation table? So it’s okay for the French, for example, to refuse to agree to anything without getting the concessions they want? It’s okay for the French and the Germans to meet prior to the negotiation and agree a common position, and then try to force that on everyone else? You think the Irish are the only ones looking out for their own interests? Come on.

    “It is however, undeniable that we have commonality of interests on so many points”

    I’m sure we do. But surrendering national sovereignty, waving goodbye to the concept of democracy, handing power over to bureaucrats who are completely unaccountable is not in anyone’s interest, save the free-loading few in Brussels.

    I am well aware that my country can leave the EU, and I hope to see that day come.

  5. “Evolution is necessary”

    A chilling slogan for the Brave New World.

    “I understand that many hanker after a bygone world, where nation states were able to provide the answers. But in today’s globalising world they are increasingly less able to provide.”

    Straw man. I look to the future. It is you EU supporters that hanker for a bygone age – that’s why the first treaty was signed in Rome. The nation state is the largest social unit that can work. Above this there is only empire – check the history books. Democracy and empire cannot co-exist, one destroys the other. Read the history of what Athens did to Naxos, see what the Ango-American war machine is doing right now.

    ‘Globalisation’ is just a new name for an old system – the ‘free trade’ economic model of the British Empire. Protectionism only for the banker. As such it is not inevitable or irresistable

    “Therefore, the European Union needs to be established on a democratic footing, even if a number of member states lacks the maturity to follow in a near future”

    God, get me out of this weird Euro cult!

  6. Waldo Wanderhaeghen,

    The general interest can be paraphrased as the interest of the EU citizens.

    Effective common decision-making structures would strengthen the common interest.

    At the same time, the European Union needs a new legitimacy, since it is hard to imagine future success if European opinion is split more or less down the middle.

    This is something the European Council should start thinking about in a new light.

  7. Martin Keegan

    I note we’re not getting any responses here on the points about democracy, except an honest admission that Waldo refuses to address the points raised.

  8. Trooper Thompson,

    Evolution is necessary, but where should it take place?

    I understand that many hanker after a bygone world, where nation states were able to provide the answers. But in today’s globalising world they are increasingly less able to provide.

    The European Union is the best attempt to enhance the security and prosperity of its citizens, but still far from effective and democratic.

    It is unfortunate if, let’s say, half of the EU population neither approves of nor understands the common interests that we have.

    Alienation and resistance require new solutions.

    Yes, the Treaty of Lisbon brings some improvements to the functioning of the European Union and its democratic credentials, but it is far from enough.

    A persistent split in opinion down the middle is not a viable option for future success.

    Therefore, the European Union needs to be established on a democratic footing, even if a number of member states lacks the maturity to follow in a near future.

  9. “The majority of EU citizens want corporate tax harmonization and a workable EU (with a workable amount of EU commissioners) and should be able to do so if that is what is wanted.”

    Oh really? Cos I don’t remember being asked, and according to recent polls (in Ireland) most people didn’t want those things. The same thing happened in France and the Netherlands, and the same thing most likely would happen in much of the rest of the EU, including my country, England.

    The EU fears the people’s choice – rightly so.

    To read Ralf Grahn’s comments about “the EU stuck with the Treaty of Nice, as the crowning achievement of European integration” makes me picture this EU project of yours like a woman being laced into an ever tighter corset, every treaty another notch.

  10. Martin Keegan

    Waldo, are you seriously letting your whole refusal to address my argument depend on the notion that the EU is a single country where it’s legitimate for an EU-wide majority to make the rules?

    If I said, well, hypothetically, you are wrong, I’d just get laughed at.

  11. One interesting aspect is the almost deafening silence from Ireland as to what these concessions would be, if of the kind that could realistically accommodated within the parameters of declarations or even protocols or re-written treaty provisions.

    The Irish government is clueless, and it has been reduced to pleading for extra time even beyond October 2008.

    If the Irish, gladly calling themselves pro-Europeans, want themselves and the rest of the EU stuck with the Treaty of Nice, as the crowning achievement of European integration, then there is very little in the way of enticements to be offered for a second helping of essentially the same Lisbon Treaty.

    Not that there seems to be much hope for cures, but for all those interested in Europe’s place in the world, the Irish referendum has exposed deep flaws, which merit at least serious thought and discussion:

    1) National referendums on European level questions, and more generally the merits of representative vs. direct democracy.

    2) The EU’s treaty base and unanimous ratification.

    3) Unanimous decision-making and the ‘liberum veto’.

    4) The lack of democratic foundations and democratic legitimacy for the EU.

    The European Union is essentially a creature of the member states and, as things look now, they will continue to miss Europe’s defining moments rather than try to solve our common problems effectively.

    Thus, they are more (part of) the problem than part of the solution.

    The ‘Polish Diets’ of 21st century Europe look set to become valuable footnotes in the histories of the Asian century.

  12. Martin Keegan

    The problem is that the existing EU constitutional structure is not one which the electorates of the Member States would all have entered into willingly. This is for a number of reasons: outside the context of accession terms, most electorates have never had a chance to vote on the EU/EC/EEC constitutional structures.

    There has been, I think, one single election in a Member State, where people have had a serious direct choice about European integration, and that was the Maltese general election which settled the inconclusive referendum they’d just tried to hold on EU accession. In the generality if not totality of other cases, integration has been an issue but as part of a broader manifesto for a doomed party and would not have been the determinant of many people’s votes: e.g., the Labour manifesto of 1983 in the UK, or the Tories in 2001. Non-mainstream minor or extremist / terrorist-front parties can’t really count here.

    Once your State is a Member, which may not have happened by contested election or referendum, you basically don’t get a choice on constitutional matters, unless you’re from one of a very small number of Member States: Ireland and Denmark frequently consult the electorate on constitutional changes, and there have been two referendums in France, and one each in the UK, Netherlands, Sweden, Luxembourg and Spain.

    Belgium, Portugal, Italy (which had a referendum on a non-live issue, once), Germany and Greece have basically never let the voters near the question, and Finland, Austria and the port 2004 accession countries have only had accession referendums (arguably the UK should number with these).

    The absence of basic democratic scrutiny and formal consent for the evolving EU constitution has meant that it contains provisions which no-one would ever have voted for. Because it is believed to be necessary for some policies to be hardwired into a constitution as a prerequisite for the electorate agreeing to bound by it (an event which has never happened in the UK), an EU statutory constitution may not be possible with the democratic consent of all Member States, as some will want free trade and others will want a constitutional guarantee aganist free trade, or abortion, or the proper labelling of fatal poisons or whatever happens to rouse the passions.

    We are at a position where there is a Europhile majority in all Member State legislatures, yet a Eurosceptic majority in some Member State electorates, who are on most other issues properly represented. It seems unlikely that European integration can proceed from now on on the basis of defiance of the electorate by national legislators or the Luxembourg Court, having legal rather than political/moral legitimacy.

    The greater problem is that legally, everyone is locked in to the existing structure. It can only be changed unanimously, and the various Member States’ electorates want to pull in opposite directions. Either the benefits of legal continuity and certainty must be abandoned, or must those of democracy.

    Those who erected the legal edifice without sufficient democratic consultation are to blame.

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